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'Committed to Doing It Differently'

March is Gender Equality Month across the globe. Three Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena colleagues provide insights about lessons learned, measuring progress and innovative thinking

by Bob Condor / @SeattleKraken /

When Sadie Klingman's grandmother attended trade school to become an aeronautical draftsman, she didn't feel welcome by her male colleagues. Those reluctant classmates had it wrong: Mary Epps prospered during a long career in Honeywell's aerospace division helping design airplanes and rockets.

No doubt Klingman, 24, drew inspiration from her grandma during early semesters as a college student studying computer science. Klingman was one of the few females among some 200 freshman students declaring the major.

"I once went to the library to study for a math exam and approached a group of guys from my class sitting at a table," says Klingman, an executive assistant for Kraken hockey operations. "I asked them if I could study with them and one of them said, 'no, this is a boys-only table.' They all laughed. I ended up sitting down and studying with them. I remember there were many jokes made that highlighted that I was different. It appeared the jokes were made to make themselves more comfortable at my expense."

March is Gender Equality Month, a worldwide initiative organized by the Womensphere Foundation and New Champions 5050 in collaboration with the United Nations, which identifies gender equality and empowering all women and girls as one of the organization's "sustainable development goals." The UN calls gender equality as "not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world."

A brief gender equality primer from the UN: "There has been progress over the last decades: More girls going to school, fewer girls forced into early marriage, more women serving in parliament and positions of leadership and laws being reformed to advance gender equality ... Challenges remain: discriminatory laws and social norms remain pervasive, women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership and one in five women (ages 15 to 49) report experiencing physical violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period ... the COVID-19 outbreak exacerbates existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere from health to economy to security and social protection."

Hewan Teshome, senior vice president and general counsel for Climate Pledge Arena and the Kraken, is the daughter of parents who came to the U.S. for higher education, planning to return to Ethiopia afterward. A military coup made it unsafe to remain in their home country.

Like many immigrant parents, they hoped Teshome would become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. But Teshome said when she chose to pursue an undergraduate degree in journalism at New York University, "my parents encouraged me to do what I love."

It turned out Teshome did earn a law degree from Stanford, then landed a job with a firm in New York working a young lawyer's marathon days and weeks. Her father returned to Ethiopia on an annual basis during those days as part of a Rotary Club program to provide polio vaccinations. Teshome managed to find the time to join those trips.

"Everything changed so much in a year," recalls Teshome. "I thought, 'there's got to be some way to contribute. I met a lot of people in the [Ethiopian] business community. I started thinking about maybe finding a job in the private sector there."

Three years into her work at the law firm in Manhattan, the CEO of SouthWest Holdings (hotels, real estate, beverages) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, offered a VP/corporate and legal affairs position Teshome couldn't turn down. Her parents were less inclined.

"My parents have always been super supportive of my career," says Teshome, laughing gently. "This was the one time they said, 'Are you sure?' ... I was going back to a business community not fully developed."

Per the UN findings, social norms regarding gender in Ethiopia were "not as open and progressive as a city like Seattle" when Teshome accepted the job in 2011.

"Gender was a factor in the professional and legal culture," she says. "It was assumed women would be paralegals and eventually stay home to raise kids. I was in a senior position and still experienced pushback and dismissiveness."

For Allison Bickford, the Kraken director of corporate partnership activation, her future guideposts for gender equality came in triplicate.

"My mom as a 20-something was doing what she was passionate about; she was a ballet dancer. My two aunts, my mom's sisters, both held [and still hold] impressive positions when I was young. One is chief operating officer of the [trade-group] American Gas Association. My other aunt is executive director of diversity and inclusion at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey; it's a role in which she has empowered women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) for decades."

The three sisters impressed Bickford: "Growing up, I never had any reason why I couldn't do what I wanted to do."

What Bickford wanted to do came clear at the University of New Hampshire, when she fell in love with the sport of hockey at the hockey-mad school. She served two years as student director of marketing for the men's team, which has produced nearly 50 players who went on to play in the NHL, including more than 30 who played multiple seasons. Bickford remembers one female UNH professor who "really opened my eyes when she insisted the term should be 'sportspersonship.'

Bickford leveraged her impressive undergraduate promotional work into eight-plus years working in the sports marketing industry with big-name consumer brands and across major sports leagues before joining the Kraken in August 2019. Her early career provided first-hand observations about gender equality.

"I started to see it was not so easy for women in the sports industry," says Bickford. "There were fewer women around [compared to the UNH athletic department] and not many in leadership. It was almost competitive among women who have positions. It never deterred me, it was just weird."

Klingman joined the Kraken franchise the same summer as Bickford, beginning her career as an account manager in ticket sales while still pursuing a degree in business and sustainability via online courses at Arizona State (she expects to graduate December 2022).

Teshome worked in the Ethiopia business community for five years). She decided in 2016 it was time to return to Seattle, where she grew up but hadn't lived since high school. She served as corporate counsel and then general counsel at Vicis, Inc., the Seattle startup aiming to revolutionize head protection in sports, starting with football helmets. Teshome joined Oak View Group and the Kraken last May.

All three women appreciate the forward thinking of OVG, Climate Pledge Arena and Kraken leadership. Both the arena and hockey team have been purposeful about hiring and recruiting hiring female leaders and staff members.

"I'm lucky to have found an organization that offers me a spot at the table for who I am," says Klingman after telling the story of male classmates at the "boys-only" table. "An organization that values me and what I'm able to contribute."

Teshome says when thinks about her professional life, especially early in her law career, she saw "things that were just wrong." But calling out those wrongs can prove difficult and come with "serious consequences" to careers. It is not a leap to say the associated risks are higher for women in many industries.

"It is an incredible privilege that comes with my job for Climate Pledge Arena and the Kraken," says Teshome. "An underrated part of being in-house counsel is serving as a moral compass-what can we do, what should we do, what are the norms? I am so lucky to be doing it from scratch with people committed to doing it a different way. Ethics is part of this job and who we are."

Like all of us honored to be working for the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena, Bickford appreciates the dozens and dozens of female faces during all-staff Zoom calls to match the dozens and dozens of males on screen.

"Along with all of the women surrounding us at the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena," says Bickford, "there are more positions at the league level in which a woman can see herself. It's real. We see Alex [Alexandra Mandrycky, Kraken director of hockey strategy and research] on lists of potential general managers. Everyone [in the hockey world] thinks she could be the first female NHL GM. That's very real. That's my good friend on those lists."

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